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Inside China’s Plan to Take Over Hollywood

(The Hollywood Reporter) Wang Jianlin, who is still an active member of Communist Party of China, and is a delegate to the National Peoples Congress, has a plan for Chinese Rule of Hollywood.  The lack of separation in China between Business and the Politburo, the ruling elite of Communist China, has some watchers worried about the long term effects a Chinese takeover of Hollywood will have for Free Speech.

Embedded below is a video report on the Censorship of Films in China by the Communist Party.

In Beijing with Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man, as he weighs in on everything from Nicole Kidman (his “muse”) to Disney’s Bob Iger and NBCUniversal’s Steve Burke (“They are very gifted leaders and also very creative”) and opens up about his brutal upbringing.

Wang Jianlin normally doesn’t go to the movies. He does, however, make one exception — for his 90-year-old mother. Their trips to the cinema are the rare occasions each year when the notoriously driven chairman of Chinese real estate conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group fully checks out from work.

“I won’t be disturbed at all,” he says emphatically. “Because the time is to be spent with my mom. Filial piety is an important Chinese virtue.”

This may come as a surprise to Hollywood. After all, Wang has aggressively — some might say relentlessly — positioned himself at the forefront of China’s unprecedented push into the U.S. entertainment sector. After splashing out $2.6 billion for the acquisition of North American theater chain AMC Entertainment in 2012, Wanda methodically has picked off acquisition targets at various links in the entertainment value chain — from movie houses to a $3.5 billion deal for Burbank-based studio Legendary Entertainment to distribution, theme parks, digital marketing, merchandising and the pending $1 billion acquisition of Dick Clark Productions (owned by THR‘s parent company) — not to mention building the world’s largest film studio, for $8.2 billion, on China’s northeast coast.

Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin in an AMC Theatre after his groups acquisition of the cinema chain in 2012. Image Credit Forbes.
Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin in an AMC Theatre after his groups acquisition of the cinema chain in 2012. Image Credit Forbes.

Wang also has made no secret of his desire to own a major American studio. But rather than wait idly for one of the majors to make itself amenable to a takeover (he openly expressed interest in acquiring a majority stake in Paramount), Wang has, in characteristic fashion, decided to take aggressive action now. He is preparing to establish a new multibillion-dollar investment fund to pour capital into the film slates of all six major Hollywood studios.

“I wanted to acquire one of the big six, but whether we can is a different story — it’s uncertain,” Wang tells me matter-of-factly one October afternoon in Beijing as we sit in a huge boardroom on the 20th floor of his corporate headquarters. The room is set up like a midsize hall at the United Nations. Plush, black leather chairs are arranged around a concentric ring of mahogany tables, each seat arrayed with its own little antenna-like microphone. The windows are floor-to-ceiling, and the light pours in. By December, the building will be engulfed in a citywide green-gray haze of smog, but in early autumn the air in Beijing is often clear — the views extend deep into Beijing’s central business district.

It’s 9 a.m., and the chairman, 62, already has wrapped up several meetings that day.

“I might as well start from wherever I can, such as through investment with all six,” he says, bluntly outlining his strategy. “We will continue to work on a potential acquisition. But it won’t hurt to start by doing what we can. Participating via investment seems like a wise choice for the time being.”

Dalian Wanda Group, China’s preeminent real estate developer, is a brand known to nearly all Chinese for the massive Wanda Plaza commercial centers it has built in hundreds of prime locations throughout the country. Wang’s personal workaholism (no vacations, ever, according to those close to him) and Wanda’s ability to turn over a towering urban development — from design to delivery — within a matter of months are continual sources of lore in the country. The group’s revenue nearly tripled from 2011 to 2016, from $15.6 billion to $43 billion. It’s classic “Wanda speed,” the in-house mantra his 100,000 employees have come up with for his relentless emphasis on execution and forward advancement.

With his plan to invest directly in the Hollywood majors, it appears Wanda speed is on the verge of accelerating.

“As a businessman, he is as driven, forceful and as laser-sharp as any person I’ve met,” Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former CEO of DreamWorks Animation, says of the man Hollywood has come to refer to as simply “The Chairman.”

Wang, with an estimated personal net worth of $32.6 billion, says he’s pleased with Wanda’s progress on the exhibition end of the business (with chains on four continents, Wanda controls more movie screens than any other company in the world — by far), but “all upstream, high-end content production is monopolized by American companies,” so he’s eager to invest or acquire his way to higher capacity.

To that end, Wanda struck a marketing deal with Sony Pictures in September that will allow it to take equity stakes in some Sony tentpoles — perhaps the first of six such studio tie-ups if Wang has his way.

Wang, an active Communist Party of China member, pictured here during his time with the Peoples Liberation Army. Image Credit Dalian Wanda Group Co. Ltd.
Wang, an active Communist Party of China member, pictured here during his time with the Peoples Liberation Army. Image Credit Dalian Wanda Group Co. Ltd.

Thanks to this acquisitive blitz, during a period of a few short years, Wang has come to be seen simultaneously as Hollywood’s most coveted business partner and, to some, an interloper of alarming power. At Wanda’s first major U.S. event, held Oct. 17 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the chairman was greeted with all of the deference and fanfare of a visiting potentate. Studio execs (Warner Bros.’ Kevin Tsujihara and Sue Kroll; Sony’s Sanford Panitch; Lionsgate’s Jon Feltheimer and Erik Feig; Universal’s Jimmy Horowitz) and A-list stars including Harrison Ford assembled at his VIP dinner to pay tribute. Five years ago, he was virtually unknown in the U.S.; today, it’s safe to say, he has Hollywood’s full attention.

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